RELEASE: Gottheimer Urges Department of Education to Investigate CUNY Law School’s Antisemitic Commencement Speech for Civil Rights Violation

Violation Could Result in CUNY Forfeiting Federal Funding

Jun 07, 2023
Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) urged the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate whether City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law’s antisemitic and anti-Israel commencement speech, and the administration’s response, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel students are protected under federal law. A violation could result in CUNY forfeiting their right to receive federal funding.

“Last month, an anti-Israel activist delivered a hateful, dangerous, and antisemitic speech at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Law School commencement ceremony. I am appalled by the persistent attacks against Jewish and pro-Israel students that have emanated from CUNY recently, including this speech, and I urge your office to investigate whether these incidents and CUNY’s administration’s response, or lack thereof, constitute a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) jeopardizing the school’s eligibility for federal funding. The Department of Education has a solemn obligation to enforce Title VI and Executive Order 13899 to protect Jewish students against antisemitism. As a recipient of federal financial assistance, CUNY Law School is subject to these laws and regulations,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) in a letter to Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. “The CUNY Law School Administration has clearly fostered an atmosphere that allows the discrimination against and vilification of Jewish students to go unchecked. They have failed to adequately respond to repeated pleas from current students, faculty, and the community to fix this atmosphere of hatred.”

The letter continued, “Unfortunately, the CUNY system is no stranger to pernicious antisemitism. This incident is just the latest in a long list of hostile attacks against Jewish students on CUNY’s campuses.”

Following CUNY School of Law’s commencement address, Gottheimer released a statement condemning it as hate speech.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

June 6, 2023

The Honorable Catherine Lhamon 

Assistant Secretary
Office for Civil Rights 

Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20202

Dear Assistant Secretary Lhamon:

I am writing to call attention to yet another example of campus antisemitism, hate speech, and vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric. Last month, an anti-Israel activist delivered a hateful, dangerous, and antisemitic speech at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Law School commencement ceremony. I am appalled by the persistent attacks against Jewish and pro-Israel students that have emanated from CUNY recently, including this speech, and I urge your office to investigate whether these incidents and CUNY’s administration’s response, or lack thereof, constitute a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) jeopardizing the school’s eligibility for federal funding.

The Department of Education (the Department) has a solemn obligation to enforce Title VI and Executive Order 13899 to protect Jewish students against antisemitism. As a recipient of federal financial assistance, CUNY Law School is subject to these laws and regulations. While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, we know that “individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices.” As such, “[d]iscrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.” Guidance put out by the Department clearly explains that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism should be applied when analyzing instances of antisemitism. It also  includes as an example of a violation “denying the Jewish people their right to self- determination, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The CUNY Law School Administration has clearly fostered an atmosphere that allows the discrimination against and vilification of Jewish students to go unchecked. They have failed to adequately respond to repeated pleas from current students, faculty, and the community to fix this atmosphere of hatred. For the second year in a row, CUNY Law School’s graduation speaker dedicated their address to attacking Israel and Zionism. This year, the speaker repeatedly invoked anti-Israel propaganda, linking Israel to colonialism, oppression, racism, and even white supremacy. Peddling antisemitic tropes, the speaker also referred to “investors” and “donors” who fought back against antisemitic incidents and blamed those same “donors” for allegedly controlling school policy. The speaker also made multiple references to “Zionists,” rather than Jews, using an antisemitic dog whistle to normalize this type of egregious discrimination.

Unfortunately, the CUNY system is no stranger to pernicious antisemitism. This incident is just the latest in a long list of hostile attacks against Jewish students on CUNY’s campuses. Last year, CUNY Law School’s Student Government Association passed a resolution supporting the BDS movement that was endorsed by the school’s official faculty association. The resolution demanded CUNY sever educational exchange programs with Israel and accused the school of being “directly complicit in apartheid, genocide, and war crimes perpetrated by the Jewish State.” Students across the CUNY system have also been known to frequently chant “Zionists out of CUNY” at rallies and public events, and students and faculty have been made to feel unsafe for being “visibly” Jewish.

As antisemitic incidents rise across the United States, the Department must act swiftly to protect the Jewish community. Recent trends show that now, more than ever, there is widespread proliferation of anti-Jewish tropes and Israel-focused antisemitism. We must not turn a blind eye to antisemitism masquerading as anti-Israel sentiment, and the situation at CUNY is but one example of pervasive anti-Israelism designed to stoke hatred.

Students deserve to feel safe on their campuses. I ask that the Department and OCR review CUNY’s violations of Title VI to discern whether they have forfeited their right to receive federal funding. Thank you for your ongoing work on this pressing matter and your responsiveness to this request. I look forward to continuing working with you and the Department of Education to support student safety in and out of the classroom.

Sincerely,

Josh Gottheimer
MEMBER OF CONGRESS

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